The Spring of every year can be a magical time in the Thoroughbred racing game. Three-year-olds everywhere have Kentucky Derby dreams dancing through their heads as big prep races all across the country provide hope to all. Favorites want to continue on the road that leads to Louisville. The Cinderfella stories do not want the clock to strike. Well, there is one underdog that is looking for Midnight to strike in the Louisiana Derby.
Call Me Midnight rocked the Big Easy back in January and placed himself on the path that leads to the first Saturday in May with an upset win in the Lecomte. Breaking from the gates at odds of 28-1, this striking son of Midnight Lute used a huge kick down the home stretch and got up by a nose over the highly regarded Epicenter.
“He did the same thing when he broke his maiden at Churchill last November”, says trainer Keith Desormeaux. “That type of acceleration down the lane is something you usually see in a turf horse. That type of tactical speed is nice to have and can be a tremendous asset.”
The Lecomte win on January 22 came at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth. The March 26 Louisiana Derby adds ground as it is run at a mile and three-sixteenths. The question is will the longest of all the Kentucky Derby prep races play into the hooves of a closing runner like Call Me Midnight?
“You like to think the added distance is better for closing horses”, says Desormeaux of his late-running colt. “One of the things about a closer is you are always subject to the pace of the race. It puts a lot more pressure on the jockey as he has to determine where to have the horse and when is the right time to hit the gas pedal.”
Call Me Midnight will be in good hands for this 109th running of the Louisiana Derby. James Graham, the leading rider at this current Fair Grounds meet, will be back in the irons. Having perfectly timed the last run in the Lecomte, Desormeaux has confidence in his rider.
“Being able to judge pace is what separates your good riders from your great ones”, says Desormeaux. “James has demonstrated those abilities in the past and we are very happy to have him aboard again.”
The Louisiana Derby represents a huge opportunity for Desormeaux and Midnight for a couple of reasons. The first is of course a win here paves the way to a spot in the starting gates for the world’s most famous race. With seven races under his saddle already, the crafty Cajun-born conditioner decided to skip races in between the Lecomte and the Louisiana Derby to give his colt a better shot at a big run at the Fair Grounds signature race.
“His experience has provided a solid foundation so we didn’t feel like we needed to run a race in between”, says the man who began his training career in 1988. “He seems to run better with a little more space in between races and this provided a good opportunity to bring him in a little fresher. Also, should things go our way, the spacing between the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby will be good for him as well.”
The other big factor for Desormeaux is of course the chance to shine in his home state. Having never won this big bowl of gumbo, the man that guided Exaggerator to Preakness glory in 2016 would love to visit the winner’s circle on March 26.
“Developing a good horse in your home area is always very gratifying”, says the man who hails from Maurice, Louisiana. “You can win in other places but it kind of provides a little more vindication when you come home and do it. The Fair Grounds has long been a place where great horses are developed. We really like Midnight and think he is getting bigger and stronger. There is a lot of excitement in the air right now and we are looking forward to this opportunity.”
Call Me Midnight has two wins and a second in seven career starts with career earnings of $221,806. He is owned by Peter Cantrell and Benjamin Gase. The Louisiana Derby will be the centerpiece of a blockbuster racing card at the race track that opened back in 1872.
(photo by Hodges)